Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Time Travel and My Sister's Lasagne Recipe

Most advice about happiness or goodness or spirituality bandied around right now seems to suggest that mindful living in the moment is pretty much the way to go. When I run, I try to think, "My foot is rolling onto the pavement. Wind is in my face. . . " When I'm reading to the kids, I try to be aware of the pressure of their bodies against mine, and the feel of the pages in my hand, the words in my mouth.

But I'm not the mindfulness type. The most prosaic thing these days can catapult me right out of the present moment. So I'm chopping parsley and oregano from the garden for dinner tonight, and something about the light slanting through the leaves (remember, it's been raining what feels like steadily until yesterday morning) plus the sharp smell of the leaves, jerked me in two directions at once. I remembered holding summery bowls full of fresh tabbouli -- heck, I remembered pouring boiling water over the bulgur to make that tabbouli -- and the lemon/garlic/parsley smell rising up from the bowls. Simultaneously, I thought about the summer to come and the bowls of tabbouli waiting to be made from the parseley growing in my garden.

Which immediately catapulted me back into my far past -- into my grandmother's garden in Tennessee. Travel being what it was then, and being one of a family of six children, we didn't go and see her that often. But I do remember sitting and helping her shell beans that she'd picked, and getting up in the morning and seeing her, in a faded housedress, working among her plants. In the subsequent two generations, I can count the gardeners on one hand. It seems to be a recessive gene in our family. Swooping on to the future, I was with the tiny plants outside, now huge and heavy with fruit on stem and branch.

I finished making the lasagne for which I was parsley-chopping, and whoosh! Off I was back into my sister's kitchen, while she showed me how she made lasagne. "I never have to think about whether I have lasagne noodles."

Later, while dinner cooked, I sat with my kids and read to them and knit some more on the little lavender sweater which may, actually, never be done. It dawned on me, though, that even if I'm such a slow knitter that I only knit two rows every day, eventually -- off to the future -- I'm holding a finished object. By that time, of course, this smallest child in my house will most likely be well and firmly too large for it, but there might be another child somewhere who could wear it. Shutting my eyes between pages, I saw one of my Things with a child of their own. I'm not yet ready for that kind of time travel! I had better just knit faster.

So that you can make lasagne the My Sister way, here's a how-to:

Polenta Lasagne

1. A good few hours ahead, or the night before, make a mid-size saucepan of polenta. I don't know if my technique is the best; I boil water and pour the polenta in while stirring. I salt the water and stir more as it thickens. When it's nearly done, I like to stir in a goodly, but proportional, amount of fresh grated cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.

2. Pour the polenta into a loaf pan(s). Set it aside to cool completely. You can put it in the refrigerator if you must.

3. Unmold the polenta onto a cutting board or platter, and slice it as you would bread, as thin or thick as you prefer.

4. Use the polenta as you would regular flat pasta for lasagne, arranging the slices so that they mostly cover the surface of each layer.

Cook and eat! It's terrific, and the baby was completely covered in it after our meal. She had polenta in her neck rolls. And for the first time in weeks, very few "yucks!" were heard at table. Aaaaaah.

1 comment:

String Bean said...

I'm not the mindfulness type either, but I do have those moments. Wonderful, aren't they?

You're not the only slow knitter. I feel like I'll never finish anything!